Hang Ten! Check Out These Early Historical Pictures Of Surfer Girls And Guys

Contemporary photographer Joni Sternbach recently focused her camera on the ocean and the people who eat, breathe, and sleep it. When asked about her work she says, “I was more drawn to the idea of people who were wholly absorbed by the ocean, both physically and metaphorically.” Not only did she create beautiful photos that captured these surfers love for the sport, she captured their hearts as well. The most interesting part of her series is the way she did it. She used wet plate and tintype photography, originally used in the 1850s, which got us thinking about surfers from yesteryear.

So let’s go back and experience the surf from years past. Step into history and see how these people from many years ago are not much different than surfers today.

Riding Towards The Surf

Surfin 2

Vintage Everyday

Remember when you were a kid and you looked forward to summer vacation so much that you just couldn’t sit still on the end of the last day of school and stared at the clock until the bell rang? And as soon as it rang, your summer of freedom beckoned to you from beyond the school doors? That’s kind of how these surfers from 1961 must be feeling.

The California Surf

Surfin 16

Vintage Everyday

What a day, eh? This photo is from 1950. The California beach is packed with beach bums and surfer dudes riding the waves. The vintage cars in the foreground with the palm leaf hut really complete the photo. As a wise anonymous surfer once said, “If it swells, ride it.”

Well Thought Out Photo

Surfin 11

Twisted Sifter

Who doesn’t love a little artistry with their surf photos? These women put some thought into their photo and laid their boards out to create a fan shape. And then, of course, they had to lay down and pose in the same way and capture the moment from above.

There It Is!

Surfin 1


This photo captures the true passion and joy these surfer guys no doubt felt when they caught glimpses of the big waves before them. As Kelly Slater once said, “The joy of surfing is so many things combined, from the physical exertion of it to the challenge of it, to the mental side of the sport.”

Wooden Board

Surfin 19

Daily Stroke

This might be one of the oldest photos shown here. Though the exact date is hard to determine, by looking at the clothing worn by the man and kids in the photos, it’s safe to say it’s sometime in the early 1900s. And take a look at that old, wooden board. The surfboard has come a long way, my friends.

Surf’s Up!

Surfin 5

The Week

Six happy guys on their boards heading out to ride some waves. As a wise man once said, “Surfing, alone among sports, generates laughter at its very suggestion, and this is because it turns not a skill into an art, but an inexplicable and useless urge into a vital way of life.”

Bathing Beauties

Bathing Beauties


Take a look at these beauties! Those surfboards are super tall and the girls posing in front of them are gorgeous, wouldn’t you say? One can’t help but notice that their bathing suits are insanely modest by today’s standards, but still very cute. The girl in the middle looks like she’s rocking some Princess Leia buns.

On The Road Again

Surfin 3


This grainy photo is great. The hazy coloring really sets the vintage tone of it really well. It looks like a group of guys decided to pack up and head to the water to ride some waves but something happened to the car. It’s hard to tell for sure, but it looks like there are still some guys in the car waiting to hit the beach and catch some waves.

Let’s Go Surfing Now

Let’s Go Surfing Now


The interesting thing about most of these vintage photos is that they all look like they could be from the modern day. There are usually a few things that date the photo, however. In this one, obviously the style of the car dates the photo as well as the guys’ swimwear. Looks like that car probably couldn’t take much more weight before hitting the ground.

Perfect Surf

Surfin 9


What a beautiful photo. This one is just perfectly picturesque with the rocky, mountainous shore along the background and the surfers lined up with their boards in the foreground. And those three women sitting on the shoulders’ of the guys have to be some brave souls to do that while surfing.

Surfin’ In The 60’s

Surfin 18

Dusty Factory Vintage

Now, just look at the waves crashing in the background behind those groovy surfers. Take a moment to enjoy their sweet hairstyles and choice swimwear. This photo doesn’t feel like a spontaneous surfing photo, but perhaps it was. The 1960s was a far-out time, especially when riding the waves.

Parking Lot

Surfin 4

Hemmings Daily

This great photo is from 1963 at San Onofre Beach in California. The clear, blue ocean expands as far as the eye can see, offering unending waves and adventure for a devoted surfer. The parking lot here is full and is a dreamland for those who are passionate about vintage cars.



Inky Deep

This photo has an interesting story behind it. The girl sitting in the middle is a 16 year old surfing queen, known as Gidget. Her father was a screenwriter in Hollywood and wrote a movie in 1959 about her love for surfing, which became a hit and introduced thousands of people to surf culture.

Guys And Their Boards

Surfin 20

Dust Factory Vintage

Interestingly, the first written record of Hawaiian surfing dates back to 1779, when Captain James Cook set off to find a passageway from the North Pacific to the Atlantic. When he couldn’t find one, he stopped in Hawaii where he and his crew were introduced to surfing. Back then, and until the 60s, surfboards were made simply of wood.

Riding In Style

Surfin 6

Dust Factory Vintage

This girl’s got it made. Hoisted up on a board and carried by her strong, groovy friends to the beach blanket. That surf fashion is great too. By this time in the 1960s, women’s bathing suits had become much less conservative and showed off an exceptional amount of skin compared to earlier in the 60s and the swim fashion of the 1950s.

A View Of The Surf

Surfin 7

Vintage Everyday

The waves roll in one by one as the onlookers take a break, lay their boards to rest, and sit and watch the surfers do their thing. This is a great photo, taken in Lima, Peru in 1959. Again, swim fashion is one of the best parts of these vintage photos.

Compositionally Cool

Surfin 17

Source: Vintage Everyday

All you need to create an artsy photo is a handful of surfboards and you’ve got yourself the raw material for a great composition. This photo looks very calm and relaxing, don’t you think? And take a look at what the gentleman has… is he drinking coffee at the beach?

A Girl And Her Board

Surfin 13

Best Teenagers Ever

Here’s another photo of Kathy Kohner (a.k.a Gidget) doing her thing on the waves. The nickname “Gidget” was given to her by her older, male surfing mentors and came from a combination of “girl” and “midget.” At that time, it was uncommon for a woman to be surfing. This photo was taken in 1958.

Crash Into Me

Surfin 14

O.C. History Roundup

Sometimes riding the waves isn’t successful for everyone. Those waves look pretty rough and some of those surfers seem to be a little too close to the pier for comfort. This is a photo from Newport Harbor in Orange County in the 1940s. The silhouette in the foreground is great and the little vintage swim trunks with the belt make it even better.

Happy Surfers

Surfin 10

Surf Southwest

This is just too delightful to pass up, even though it isn’t a real-life photo. This is an artist’s rendering of what the native surfers must have looked like when riding the waves of 1779 when Captain James Cook visited with his crew. They all look so pleasantly happy to be on the water, and the guy sitting on the board in the background looks like he’s doing some peaceful meditation.